In a Middle East country where terrorist attacks by suicide bombers are rare, Saudi Arabia suffered such an attack on June 23rd. Both target and timing were significant.
The target was Islam’s holiest site – the Grand Mosque in Makkah; the timing was the last day of Ramadan, when attendance was unusually high as hundreds of thousands of worshipers gathered for afternoon prayers.
The good news was Saudi security, learning in advance of the planned attack, arrested five suspects. Closing in on the bomber forced him to detonate his explosives prematurely. The bad news was six foreign pilgrims were wounded.
As Riyadh launches an investigation into the attack, a betting man would take odds one country in particular-Iran-is involved, either directly or indirectly, to it. Investigators and legal authorities have linked Tehran to multiple attacks against the U.S., including the 1983 Beirut bombing of the Marine Barracks and the 9/11 attacks.
News of this attack undoubtedly causes some to think Saudi Arabia is finally getting its due for having exported Islamism for so long. Just like the U.S. made some bad decisions in the Middle East – President Jimmy Carter’s support of Iran’s Islamic revolution rather than the Shah, our long-time ally, and President Barack Obama’s decision to provide Tehran with a path to nuclear weapons with his 2015 agreement are but two decisions quickly coming to mind – Riyadh too made a bad decision in exporting Islamism.
But while mutually bad past judgments have created a dangerous Middle East today, Saudi critics need understand now, more than ever, U.S. and Saudi interests must be aligned to confront the same threat. Failure to do so will only enhance Iranian efforts to establish a “Shia Crescent.”
Ever since the mullahs came to power in 1979, they have been motivated by the goal to establish a Middle East caliphate that would enable them to expand globally.
For eight years, Obama gave Tehran a free pass to do just that, outrageously claiming it was important Saudi Arabia learn to “share the neighborhood.”
For those doubting Iran’s expansionist goals and evil intentions, two provisions of its own constitution make them clear.
The first mandates the Islamic revolution be exported outside Iran’s borders. No other nation’s constitution claims the right of such extra-territoriality.
We have borne witness of this mandate during the mullahs’ 38-year reign, demonstrating that no country is safe from it. Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Venezuela – all these countries and others share an Iranian or Iranian proxy presence focused on expanding Tehran’s ideological empire. Some seek to do it aggressively, others subtly.
But what should concern us even more than its extra-territorial application is the constitution’s leadership succession provision. Why? Because it sheds light on the mullahs’ real motivation for acquiring nuclear weapons.
Any well-conceived constitution provides a clear provision for a serving leader’s succession should the unexpected occur, such as death or incapacity. In the case of Iran’s highest office holder, the Supreme Leader, its constitution does that. But it also adds a third “otherworldly” contingency.
The Iranians believe that the “Twelfth Imam” or “Mahdi” disappeared in the tenth century at the age of five, entering into a state of occultation. They believe he will remain there until returning to Earth to lead Shia-Islam to global domination in an end-of-world prophecy.
The catch, however, is that the Mahdi’s return must be triggered by world chaos. Unlike most believers in Mahdi’s return, the mullahs believe mankind can be a catalyst in triggering that chaos. This should cause us serious concern about Iran acquiring nuclear weapons – concerns further reinforced by the constitutional requirement that upon his return, the Mahdi (“Wali al-Asr”) will immediately replace the Supreme Leader.
A united and focused U.S.-Saudi alliance to check Iranian aggression has never been more timely. Both countries have been distracted from the Iran problem due to the Islamic State. But it appears the fall of ISIS is now “imminent” and the maneuvering of all parties involved in fighting ISIS in order to secure their goals in a post-ISIS world is already underway.
For the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, however, there is little ideological difference between confronting ISIS or confronting Iran. Both are Islamists seeking to create and control a caliphate. The only difference is, while ISIS did so as a terrorist Islamic movement, Iran seeks to do so under the protected status of a nation-state. Ironically, while Obama would never have considered negotiating a deal with ISIS for it to acquire nuclear weapons, he unwittingly willingly negotiated just such a deal with Tehran.
The post-ISIS battleground for the powers now involved there is Syria. Aligned on one side with Syrian President Bashar Assad are Iran, its Hezbollah proxy, and Russia. Confronting them is a less organized group consisting of the U.S., Saudi Arabia and its GCC coalition, pro-Western Kurdish and Arab anti-Assad rebels and, interestingly, Hamas, which lends its tunnel-digging expertise to the anti-Assad rebels they support. Also involved in a balancing act is Turkey which, while anti-ISIS, is also anti-Kurd.
Iran recognizes that how goes Syria, goes its Crescent, and is determined that nothing deter it from that goal. This undoubtedly is why Secretary of State Rex Tillerson recently acknowledged something Obama would not: Middle East stability can only be achieved by regime change in Iran.
And last month, Trump dared go where Obama would not. When an Iranian mechanized convoy entered a 34-mile deconfliction zone around the Syria-Iraq border nearing a U.S. garrison, U.S. aircraft attacked and destroyed it. It was a bold step but one that had become increasingly necessary in the face of repeated aggressive acts against U.S. forces at sea. Days later an Iranian drone was shot down.
There should be little doubt that defeating ISIS is merely the end of a phase, not the end of war in Syria. The only way that can happen on terms favorable to the U.S. is through a united U.S.-Saudi effort dedicated to countering each and every aggressive act by Iran with a firm response on the battlefield-wherever that battlefield is situated.